There will be a day when I can no longer run. Today is not that day.
Last Sunday morning, along with thousands of other runners, I underwent the ritual familiar to many who have ever run the London Marathon. The early wake-up (for me this was 04.30hrs) after a fitful night’s sleep. The consumption of an enormous bowl of porridge – the energy store needed for what lies ahead. The journey to London. The excitement, fear and adrenaline heading off to the start at Blackheath. The last minute trip or rather trips to the loo.
As it was expected to be the hottest marathon day ever, I thought for a second or two about joining the majority of other runners in the championship start by smearing Vaseline on my nipples but decided to just take up the offer of some sun block for my nose from a fit looking runner with “ARMY” written across the back of her vest. As I applied the sun block, I looked around me at the other runners as they warmed up and started to question what I was doing in the championship start of the London Marathon – there wasn’t any running knickers or extra-light racing flat trainers in my kit bag – just a pair of baggy shorts, a cheese sandwich and a couple of post-run cans of Heineken. However, I was there and the stripes on my race number pinned to my vest confirmed that I had earned my championship start place – right behind the elite men.
After handing in my kitbag at the baggage lorry, I nervously lined up at the start line in said baggy shorts and waited patiently for the starting gun to be fired by the Queen from Windsor Castle – telling myself that nothing would go wrong – all I had to do was keep moving forward and finish.
The first mile wasn’t too crowded and I quickly found my pace (7 minute miles) and at mile three (Woolwich), I heard the familiar shout out from a spectator ‘keep going – you’re nearly there’. FFS!
Every drink station became potential death trap as runners attempted to grab water to ‘drink and douse’ themselves with before they ‘drained and dropped’ their empty plastic bottles at their feet.
During the section of the course around the Isle of Dogs and through Canary Wharf, I began to pass runners who I would normally be behind at races. I started to worry about my pace being too quick for the conditions but as I felt comfortable, and was hitting my targets, I decided stick with the plan.
At mile 18, I became aware of how hot it was as temperature gauge on a nearby building told me it was now 28 degrees. As the temperature rose, I saw more runners collapsing and a 3 hour pacer pull out of the race. It was at this point, I decided to slow down my pace as I was beginning to feel the heat. Unlike the majority of runners taking part in the marathon, the noise and crowds don’t spur me on and at times can start to freak me out. For months I trained in peace and solitude – and suddenly there I was surrounded by thousands of runners and people waving banners and shouting ‘you’re all winners’ and ’looking strong’ – when I neither felt like a winner nor very strong but I did want to finish – and was determined that nothing would prevent from doing so.
As I passed the 20-mile mark, I felt a mixture of fear and elation as I told myself ‘only 10K to go – keep moving forward’.
Mile 23 (only a parkrun to go) I snaked back across London Bridge and Embankment and then onto my favourite part of the route – Parliament Square. This year was no different – rounding Birdcage Walk knowing the home straight would soon be in sight, I accelerated towards the finish line, stopping to high five a club mate before crossing over the finish line in 3 hours 7 minutes exactly. Job done – 26.5 miles run, averaging 7.03 minute miles.
After collecting my finisher’s medal and being made to feel like a superhero by my club mates at the finish, it was time for my post marathon beer and the now warm cheese sandwich from my kit bag. Whilst sitting in St James’s Park waiting for the coach to arrive to take me back home, I unexpectedly received a message saying that I’d finished the 2018 London Marathon 3rd in age group (50 – 54) and 80th female overall – not too shabby for a bird from Croydon who likes to run a bit.